Welcome to FWIW Virginia, where we analyze digital spending trends on both sides of the aisle in advance of the 2019 Virginia legislative elections. Each week, we look at whose digital spending is up, whose is down, and whose is non-existent across the Commonwealth.
For what it’s worth, some of it might surprise you.
There has been a lot of attention paid to insurgent Democratic primary challengers since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unseated Joe Crowley in NY-14 last year. But Virginia is no stranger to incumbent Republicans primaried on the right (remember Eric Cantor??). So this week, we looked at a competitive Virginia state house district, where an incumbent Republican is facing a bruising (and expensive) primary from a challenger making Medicaid expansion a central issue. And it may cost Republicans control over a must-win seat.
2019 by the numbers
We’re tracking digital investment by party committees, statehouse leadership and candidates in some of the top competitive state legislative districts in Virginia in advance of the 2019 state legislative elections. Here is how investment by Republicans and Democrats compare since the 2018 midterm elections.
Here is a list of top Virginia political spenders on Facebook the week of March 3-9.
Much ado about Medicaid Expansion
Delegate Bob Thomas was among the Republican members in the General Assembly to vote for Medicaid expansion in 2018 –– and he’s attracted a primary challenger because of it. Former Stafford County Supervisor Paul Milde announced his run for the Republican nomination in HD-28 against Thomas nearly one year ago.
Since then, the two have spent more on Facebook advertising than any other individual Republican campaign in Virginia. They’ve been spending since May, but the Facebook ad archive will only allow us to see week-by-week breakdowns since October.
The two campaigns have mirrored each other in messaging and their ads seem…eerily similar.
Thomas’s district is a toss-up too. He was first elected to the General Assembly by a margin of only 82 votes in 2017, and Senator Tim Kaine won 54.9% of the vote there in 2018. His former opponent Josh Cole is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Cole has only invested $180 in Facebook advertising so far, but, since he doesn’t have primary opponent, he’s been able to dedicate each one of his ads to fundraising for the general election.
According to the last filing on Dec. 31, 2018, Thomas has $26,787 on hand compared to Milde’s $12,900. Regardless of who wins the primary, their war chests already look significantly drained compared to the other House incumbents in competitive districts. On the other hand, Cole only had $10,091 cash on hand as of December, but he’s been fundraising more aggressively now that the midterms are over –– we counted four fundraising events on his Facebook page since January.
Keep an eye on HD-28. We know that even after the Republican primary, Medicaid expansion will remain an issue in the district – Democratic challenger Cole has already been communicating to his followers about removing the work requirement to access Medicaid in Virginia.
This issue – coupled with an expensive and drawn-out Republican primary might tip the scale in favor of the Democrats –– and hand them a majority in the House of Delegates.
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